Traumatic memories may soon take their rightful places outside of our mind and disappear into oblivion if a new strategy developed by scientists to treat trauma-related distress works as effectively as hoped.
Their strategy is based on the study of a drug, RU38486, which blocks the effects of the stress hormone cortisol.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is among the most common and disabling psychiatric casualties of combat and other extremely stressful situations.
People suffering from PTSD often suffer from vivid intrusive memories of their traumas.
Current medications are often ineffective in controlling these symptoms and so novel treatments are needed urgently.
Using an animal model of traumatic memory, researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine has shown that treatment with RU38486 selectively reduces stress-related memories, leaving other memories unchanged.
They also found that the effectiveness of the treatment is a function of the intensity of the initial "trauma."
Although this particular study was performed in rats, their findings help to set the stage for trials in humans.
Cristina Alberini, Ph.D., co-author of the study, explained how the findings would translate into developing clinical parameters: "First, the drug should be administered shortly before or after recalling the memory of the traumatic event. Second, one or two treatments are sufficient to maximally disrupt the memory.
"Third, the effect is long lasting and selective for the recalled memory. Finally, the time elapsing between the traumatic experience and the treatment seems to be an important parameter for obtaining the most efficacious treatment," Alberini added.
Alberini said that "these results suggest that carefully designed combinations of behavioral and pharmacological therapies may represent novel, effective treatments for PTSD or other anxiety disorders."
The study has published in the February 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry.